Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape, challenged

This is my response to the Moral Landscape Challenge, an essay competition with a 1,000-word limit.

Hey Sam; thanks for the opportunity to interact with your views. If I understand The Moral Landscape correctly, your central thesis is that moral truth exists and can be scientifically understood. This seems to cash out in two critical claims:

I. Moral goodness, broadly speaking, just is whatever supports or increases the well-being of conscious minds;
II. Science, in principle if not always in practice, can discover facts around, make predictions about, and ultimately guide the process of promoting this collective well-being.

I know you’ve already faced a lot of criticism about (I) in particular, so I hope I won’t be beating a dead horse. I’m going to assume (I) for the sake of argument and agree with you: a person who denies that morality is about promoting well-being simply isn’t making sense. I hope to persuade you that your own moral beliefs actually reveal the opposite: it is the person who thinks that morality is about promoting well-being who isn’t making sense.

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Ravi Zacharias at UPenn Open Forum


Ravi Zacharias recently spoke to students and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. The topic of the forum was “Is Truth Real? A Conversation on Science, Ethics, and Philosophy”. Ravi was joined for the Q and A with Nabeel Qureshi.

Auckland Event: Discussing The God Delusion and Has Science Buried God?

Next month, a discussion group kicks off in Auckland to consider Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion and Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox. The group will meet on Monday evenings and include a mixture of discussion and clips from the debates between Lennox and Dawkins. Here are the full details:

Format: DVD screening interspersed with discussion.

When: 7.30pm Mondays (beginning on the 3rd of February).

Where: 15 Sainsbury Road, Morningside, Auckland.

Cost: Free (donations welcome).

For more details contact Gerald at or call him on 027 2468 218.


Must Christians still observe the Sabbath?

Here are the notes from Thinking Matters Hamilton’s latest worldview study. The path to the conclusion was pretty complex and intense, but I think where we ended was clear and well-supported:

There is ample biblical evidence that the Sabbath is strictly a sign of the Mosaic covenant. There is no biblical evidence that it should be observed by Christians, and a fair amount pointing the other way. It has been fulfilled in Jesus (see Matthew 11:28), and so we now live in an eternal, spiritual Sabbath, which the repeating, physical Sabbath pointed to. Thus, observing any kind of Sabbath day is purely a matter of conscience—we are free to do it or not, as our own convictions require.

Must Christians still observe the Sabbath?

Auckland Event: Introduction to Apologetics

This year I have been running a beginners course on introductory apologetics. By popular demand, I am running this again during the next school term beginning Tuesday, 30 July. There are no course fees. Your only expense is the course textbook.

All are welcome, even those who are sceptical about Christianity. Each lesson can be understood by itself so feel free to come to any night that interests you. However, to get the full benefit and see the cumulative case develop attending all in order is recommended.

[pk_info_box width=”0″] What: Introduction to Apologetics: defending the faith with reason and evidence

When: Tuesdays, 7pm (beginning on 30 July, 2013

WhereEncounter Christian Centre 495 Rosebank Road Avondale New Zealand [/pk_info_box]

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Can we do good without being Christians?

These are the notes from our latest worldview study. This is a fairly simple question, but at the same time a very important one for understanding the importance of the gospel; and the depths of sin and grace. Given that most unbelievers think they’re basically good people, we need a clear view of why they actually aren’t.

Can we do good without being Christians? gives up on journalism to peddle pro-gay propaganda

A recent article on Stuff, linked by a friend with more enthusiasm than brains, crows: Children with gay parents ‘happier’ – research.


Reading the article, we discover the following (emphasis mine):

The preliminary findings from the Australian study contradict stereotypes that a family without an obvious dad or mum would harm the children, said lead researcher Dr Simon Crouch … Crouch, who is himself a gay man with four-year-old twin boys, ran the world’s largest study on homosexual families at the University of Melbourne.

So a gay parent of two young boys runs a study in response to a “lot” of “stereotypes” that if a mother/father is missing “there must be a problem”…and then “finds” that children of gay parents are happier. In other news, the pope commissions a study into the psychological well-being of the priesthood and finds that most priests never wanted to have sex anyway, and definitely have never harbored thoughts about altar boys.

In Stuff’s meager effort to make this seem like original journalism rather than a rip-off of a Sydney Morning Herald article written over a month ago, they got a lesbian mother, Kiwi comedian Urzila Carlson, to make some comments. Because as we know, comedians are renowned for their thoughtful interaction with weighty topics. Urzila comes out with the following snafu:

If you look back in the 80s people were saying if those parents got divorced those kids are not going to be ok. As long as both parents love you, it doesn’t matter, you will turn out alright.

Which is an interesting analogy to pick given the reams of research accumulated over the past 30–40 years which show that children who suffer through divorce are very often not okay. (You can look it up if you don’t believe me, but I assume anyone with common sense and/or friends knows this; is one example I happened to find on the first page of Google.)

So this lesbian mother is explicitly comparing having gay parents to being the victim of a broken home. That seems about right, given the strong, unapologetic argument made by Robert Oscar Lopez in his Public Discourse article, Same-Sex Parenting: Child Abuse? Lopez, who was raised by a lesbian mother, observes (emphasis original):

Like divorce and single parenting, same-sex parenting isn’t merely controversial or untested; we know that children have poorer life outcomes when they are raised outside a married biological-parent household. The data we have … make it all the more clear that it’s abusive to force children to live without a mother or father simply to satisfy adult desires….

It is abusive to tell a child, “We are your moms” or “we are your dads,” and then expect the child never to feel the loss of such important icons, in addition to the injury of having been severed from at least one, and possibly both, biological parents—not because it was necessary, but because the two adults insisted on the arrangement.

He goes on to add, “None of these problems would arise if we lived in a world where gay people saw children not as a commodity for purchase but rather as an obligation requiring sacrifices (i.e., you give up your gay partner instead of making your kid give up a parent of the opposite sex, because you’re the adult.)”

But what of the research being cited by Stuff?

What indeed. I checked into this further, and the study itself is the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS). Right now, all the information we have about the results of this study comes from a single-page “interim report”—in which the only summary is a two-line paragraph:

On measures of general health and family cohesion children aged 5 to 17 years with same-sex attracted parents showed a significantly better score when compared to Australian children from all backgrounds and family contexts. For all other health measures there were no statistically significant differences.

Since the study itself will not be available until around September 2013, this is just an assertion in lieu of any argument. It is entirely premature to quote anything from this research as if it were fact since the actual study is not available.

That said, what is available is detailed information about how it was conducted. This information shows that ACHESS is incapable by design of producing any scientifically relevant findings about same-sex parenting. It is simply not a scientifically credible study, for three main reasons:

1. Too broad

ACHESS’s sample group is much broader than its carefully-worded summary—and the media—is suggesting. It covers “children…with at least one parent who self identifies as being same-sex attracted.” So this is not a study of same-sex families, as Stuff implies, but a study of any and all parenting situations where homosexuality is any kind of factor.

2. Non-random, non-population-based sample group

The sample group itself was recruited in a way which automatically invalidates it for a properly scientific study (emphasis mine):

Initial recruitment will involve convenience sampling and snowball recruitment techniques … This will include advertisements and media releases in gay and lesbian press, flyers at gay and lesbian social and support groups, and investigator attendance at gay and lesbian community events … Primarily recruitment will be through emails posted on gay and lesbian community email lists aimed at same-sex parenting. This will include, but not be limited to, Gay Dads Australia and the Rainbow Families Council of Victoria.

This kind of sample group is not random and population-based (which would be a requirement if this were real science), but rather self-selected and thus skewed in the worst possible way. It will obviously attract only those parents likely to be ideologically motivated to put the best face on homosexuality, and with the ability to do so. In other words, the study only samples people who are likely to have signed up for the express purpose of manufacturing pro-gay results—so the data is inherently unbalanced and scientifically irredeemable.

Furthermore, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the sample group is 80% women. Gay fathers are under-represented—yet another methodological flaw.

3. High likelihood of falsified reporting, with no external accuracy checks

Although the study is ostensibly about the effects of same-sex parenting on children, the results were reported by their parents. Furthermore, recruits self-reported their data—with no objective measures in place to ensure this reporting was honest. Given that they were aware they were partipating in a major, politically-charged study, it is more than plausible to think many of them exaggerated, omitted, or otherwise distorted facts. And it is undeniable that parents are unqualified to report on the psychological state of their children as accuracy as the children themselves. So the skewed sampling is massively exacerbated by the high probability of an unknown amount of skewed reporting.

What real science says about homosexual parenting

There is already a study similar to ACHESS, except performed scientifically. It is called the New Family Structures Study (NFSS). Contrary to Stuff’s brazen claim that ACHESS is the largest study like this in the world, NFSS uses a randomly-selected sample nearly ten times larger: 3,000 American adults aged between 18 and 39. Unlike ACHESS, the NFSS did not advertise its primary research question “on the packet”—so the data is not suspect up front due to the participants’ ideological motivations. And because all the respondents were adults, they are able to speak for themselves about their childhoods—as opposed to ACHESS which sampled 5–17 year olds, but had their parents fill out the response form.

Unsurprisingly, the results from NFSS are completely different to those alleged by ACHESS. For example (emphasis mine),

Of the 239 possible between-group differences here … the young-adult children of lesbian mothers display 57 (or 24% of total possible) that are significant at the p < 0.05 level ... and 44 (or 18% of total) that are significant after controls ... The majority of these differences are in suboptimal directions, meaning that LMs display worse outcomes.

It also notes that children of lesbian mothers (and to a lesser extent gay fathers) are vastly more likely to have been sexually victimized, to be in some form of counseling or therapy, and to have difficulty identifying as fully heterosexual. (In other words, yes, being the child of a gay couple is more likely to make you gay.)


Junk science: “Having gay parents makes you happy and well-adjusted.”
Real science: “Having gay parents makes you unhappy and maladjusted.”

Auckland Conference: Science and Faith with Dr C. John Collins

Much of Western culture assumes that science and faith are foes, that faith and scientific naiveté go hand in hand, and that science has disproved the Bible and made faith irrelevant if not completely indefensible and undesirable.

Come and hear Dr. C. John Collins explain why faith and science are actually friends, how good faith fosters good science, and how good science should actually lead people to be more open to faith and the Bible.

WHEN: Friday 19 July 7pm-9.30pm and Saturday 20 July, 9:00am-4:30pm
WHERE: City Presbyterian Church, 283 Karangahape Road, Auckland
COST: $40 ($20 for Students).

Coffee and tea will be provided but please bring your own lunch. Payment can be made at the door or online (for online payments: City Presbyterian Church 12-3066-0402436-00. Please include your name and “SAF”)

Friday 19 July

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7pm Registration
7.30am Welcome and Introduction
7.45am Session 1: How good faith fosters good science
8.30pm Break
8.45am Session 2: Genesis 1-11: Poetry, history, science, and truth
9.30am Evening Tea


Saturday 20 July

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9.30am Session 3: The Image of God And Human Uniqueness
10.15am Morning Tea
10.30am Session 4: Miracles, Science, and God-of-the-Gaps
11.15am Break
11.30am Session 5: Biology, Evolution, Design
12.15pm Lunch (please bring your own)
1.15pm Q&A session
2pm Afternoon tea


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Dr C. John Collins is Professor and Chair of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. With degrees from MIT, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and the University of Liverpool (PhD), Collins is one of the few scholars uniquely placed to address critical issues that arise in our understanding of the Bible and the world.

While Collins’ early studies focused on linguistics and biblical languages, his latest work on miracles (The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World), the historicity of Adam and Eve (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care), and the book of Genesis (Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary) have established him as a leading evangelical voice on the relationship between science and faith.

Professor Collins has served as Old Testament chair on the translation committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and Old Testament Editor for the ESV Study Bible. He and his wife have been married since 1979 and have two children.