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?
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1s7NK3-mrFnz5l6zDjhD_GtOrcP4UOtnku5pqrRpODUs/edit?usp=sharing

Stuff.co.nz 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.

O RLY?

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; http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/pdfs/fcs482.pdf 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.)

TL;DR

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”)
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Schedule:
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

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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.

Auckland Conference: Ancient Truth for Modern Times with Dr C. John Collins

What is the Bible? What authority if any does the Bible have in the 21st Century? How should the Bible shape the life of the Church and individual believers?

Our approach to Scripture is fundamental to our ability to understand who God is and what he has to say to us. Come and hear Dr. C. John Collins explore the nature, authority, and purpose of the Bible in the 21st Century.

WHEN: Saturday, 13 July, 9:00am-4:30pm
WHERE: City Presbyterian Church, 283 Karangahape Road, Auckland
COST: $20 ($10 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 “ATMT”)
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Schedule:

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9am Registration
9.30am Welcome and Introduction
9.45am Session 1: What is the Bible?
10.30pm Morning Tea
10.45am Session 2: What Can We Say About the Bible? The Attributes of Scripture
11.30am Break
11.45am Session 3: What Do We Mean When We Say the Bible is “True”?
12.30pm Lunch (please bring your own)
1.30pm Session 4: How Should We Read and Interpret the Bible?
2.15pm Session 5: How Should We Preach and Teach the Bible?
3pm Afternoon tea
3.15pm Q&A Session
4.30pm Wrap up

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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.

Tauranga Event: Why Thinking Matters Presentation & DVD Launch

Wednesday 22nd May 2013

Why Thinking Matters?  An introduction to Apologetics

SPEAKER: Rodney Lake
WHEN: 7:30pm Wednesday 22nd May 2013
WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga.
COST: Free – so bring a friend!

In this live presentation Rodney introduces the idea of Apologetics and makes a case for why it matters in our Christian walk.  He makes both a scriptural and cultural defence for the use of apologetics in the Church today and looks at its outward-facing purpose (its role in evangelism) and its inward-facing purpose (its role in strengthening personal faith) and discusses the spiritual discipline of critical thinking.

He finishes up by looking at some of the reasons why our Christian youth are walking away from their faith – and the crucial role apologetics plays in preventing this disturbing trend in the Christian walk of our young people.

BONUS DVD SET LAUNCH!

We will also be launching the Thinking Matters 2012 Speaking Tour DVD set and have special pricing on the night.  These DVD’s contain the best 8 presentations given by popular US apologists Brett KunkleJay Watts and Amy Hall as recorded last year while on tour in New Zealand.  These are excellent introductory presentations – and well worth showing at home groups or used in your personal study. The four disks include:

  • Evil & Suffering. If God is good, why is there evil & suffering?
  • Defending the Faith. Are you equipped to defend your faith?
  • Only One Way. Is Jesus the only way to God?
  • Truth Matters. What is the nature of Truth?

The DVD’s are available at this special launch event for just $15 each, or you can get all four for $40 (cash and cheque only please).  This is a very good price for such outstanding material so don’t miss out!

If you can’t make it to the event – these Speaking Tour DVD’s will be made available for purchase online shortly.

Are Christians hypocritical to support the death penalty?

In a previous post on abortion on my own blog, a reader named Matthew Lee raised the issue of how many pro-abortion advocates bring up the death penalty. By doing so, they hope to show that Christians are inconsistent in saying we should never take human life.

Now, in one sense I think this is a non-issue. The objection doesn’t really get off the ground for at least two reasons:

  1. Even if Christians are inconsistent here, that doesn’t make them wrong to oppose abortion. Perhaps they are simply wrong to support the death penalty. So that doesn’t defuse the pro-life argument.
  2. The objection relies on a fallacy. Christians are concerned with unjustly taking a human life. But the death penalty is the taking of a human life precisely because justice demands it. So the objection trades on a pretty flagrant category error.

So this objection doesn’t do anything to shift the burden of proof away from the person arguing for abortion. But still, the death penalty is a pretty important topic, so Christians should have an answer to that. Click here to see how I address the question →

Auckland Event: Introduction to Apologetics with Stuart McEwing

Earlier this year, I ran an apologetics course for beginners. By popular demand, I will be running this again for the next school term, beginning on May 7. There are no course fees. Your only expense is the course textbook.

All are welcome, even those who are skeptical about Christianity. Each lesson can be understood on its own, so feel free to come to any night that interests you. Of course, to get the full benefit of the course and see the cumulative case for Christianity properly developed, I’d recommend attending all.

Read more

Christian Morality and the Problem of the Old Testament Wars

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem comes out next month. Edited by Heath A Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan, the book offers a constructive response to the issue of divine judgment and religious violence by drawing upon biblical, ethical, philosophical and theological insights. We’re excited to see the collection of essays also includes a chapter co-written by New Zealand theologian and philosopher Matthew Flannagan (you can read his chapter online here).

Here’s the full description:

The challenge of a seemingly genocidal God who commands ruthless warfare has bewildered Bible readers for generations. The theme of divine war is not limited to the Old Testament historical books, however. It is also prevalent in the prophets and wisdom literature as well. Still it doesn’t stop. The New Testament book of Revelation, too, is full of such imagery. Our questions multiply.

  •     Why does God apparently tell Joshua to wipe out whole cities, tribes or nations?
  •     Is this yet another example of dogmatic religious conviction breeding violence?
  •     Did these texts help inspire or justify the Crusades?
  •     What impact do they have on Christian morality and just war theories today?
  •     How does divine warfare fit with Christ’s call to “turn the other cheek”?
  •     Why does Paul employ warfare imagery in his letters?
  •     Do these texts warrant questioning the overall trustworthiness of the Bible?

These controversial yet theologically vital issues call for thorough interpretation, especially given a long history of misinterpretation and misappropriaton of these texts. This book does more, however. A range of expert contributors engage in a multidisciplinary approach that considers the issue from a variety of perspectives: biblical, ethical, philosophical and theological.

While the writers recognize that such a difficult and delicate topic cannot be resolved in a simplistic manner, the different threads of this book weave together a satisfying tapestry. Ultimately we find in the overarching biblical narrative a picture of divine redemption that shows the place of divine war in the salvific movement of God.

Auckland Event: Advance 2013

We are excited to be hosting Dr Glenn Peoples in a couple of locations around the upper North Island this month. We’ll be posting more details about the full tour soon but for now here’s some info on an Auckland conference he’ll be speaking at.

Advance 2013: Exploring the Tough Questions about Christianity with Glenn Peoples

Are faith and reason enemies? Should we take Christianity seriously in the world of ideas? Are there any good reasons to believe in the Christian God? Join us this April as we explore these questions and more with Christian philosopher and popular speaker Dr Glenn People. The conference will also include other incredible speakers such as Dr Chris Tucker (Auckland University), Dr Shawn Means (Auckland University), Sean du Toit (Alphacrucis College), Jacqui Lloyd (Laidlaw College), and theologian Dr Matthew Flannagan. If you’ve ever wanted to dig deeper into the evidence for Christianity or confront serious questions about God and the Bible, this conference is for you.

When: Friday April 26, 9am-4pm
Where: 17A Powell St, Avondale
Cost: $15

Programme:

9-10am: SESSION 1: Glenn Peoples: Why does it matter?

10-11am Workshops Round 1:

-Chris Tucker: Why Does God allow Evil?
-Shawn Means: The Universe, Mathematics, and God

11-12pm SESSION 2: Glenn Peoples: Do we need God to be good?

12-12.30pm Lunch

12.30-1.30pm SESSION 3: Glenn Peoples: Can we have equality without God?

1.30-2.30pm Workshops Round 2:

-Sean du Toit: Can we trust the authenticity of the New Testament Letters?
-Matt Flannagan: How should we read difficult Old Testament Passages?

2.30-3.30pm SESSION 4: Q&A Panel with Glenn Peoples, Matt Flannagan, and Jacqui Lloyd

Dr Glenn Peoples is a graduate in theology (BD) from the Bible College of NZ (now Laidlaw College) and has a Masters degree (MTHeol) and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Otago. For over ten years he has been writing and speaking on intellectual issues that Christians face, including the place of faith in the public square, justice and human rights, and the reasons for Christian belief. Glenn runs a popular podcast and blog, Say Hello to My Little Friend, and lives in Wellington with his wife Ruth and their four children.