Category Archives: Philosophy

William Lane Craig debates Sam Harris

There are 9 total YouTube videos, you can find the rest on YouTube.

William Lane Craig debates Sam Harris on the topic “Does Good Come From God?”  Dr. Craig simply demolishes Dr. Harris in this philosophical debate.  Harris demonstrates no capacity to offer an argument in response to Craig.  In the absence of argument he resorts to ad hominem, consistent deflection, emotionalism and vitriol.  He fails to make a philosophical or logical argument, never addresses the powerful logical points that Craig makes and attempts to bait him to abandon his argument by trying to drag him into the morass of which religious fundamentist perspective is worse:  the Taliban or rabid Christians who want everyone to go to hell.  He uses the phrase “morally reprehensible” to describe by inference people like Dr. Craig, then backs down when Craig calls him on it.  Harris’ presentation in this debate is disrespectful and in fact he behaves in a “morally reprehensible” way.  When he uses his calm, confident albeit flatulent “reasoning” to obfuscate and denigrate, his self-deception is shoved down the throats of his willing readers and followers.

Craig does a good job here of staying on topic and with few exceptions resists the temptation to take the bait of Harris.  Harris admits to being afraid of his performance in this debate with Craig and he proved that he had every reason to fear; he loses miserably.  What Harris demonstrates is an utter disrespect for the philosophical framework as a legitimate concourse for truth seeking, finding and debating.  Alvin Plantinga pointed out the shallowness of these “New Atheists” when he reviewed Richard Dawkin’s book “The God Delusion” which he called “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad absurdum”. These guys are all hype and very little substance.  These guys are simply shock jock amateur philosophers, who like Harris walk into Notre Dame and brazenly mock transubstantiation.  That is not good argumentation, and it certainly demonstrates a poor grasp on morality.

For those of you who wanted a more “theological” or “Christian” response, this was a philosophical debate.  Dr. Craig several times delineated the boundaries when he says this debate is not about the existence of God or to defend a particular theistic system like Christianity, rather he rightly stayed on topic and demanded an answer to his rebuttal of Harris’ misguided and mistaken arguments that an atheistic world view can provide an objective ground for morality.

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Atheists Borrow from Theism

I loved this video, well done and funny, and ironically makes the point that is the title of the song.  I know they mean it to be tongue in cheek, but it ends up being a substantive criticism of a non-Theist position about reality, specifically how we explain the idea of beauty.

One of the strong arguments for the existence of God is the moral argument; morality is impossible in a naturalistic, materialistic universe.  There is no foundation for a normative morality without the existence of a rational and moral God.  Atheists usually counter the argument by saying:  “not true, I am an atheist and I have morals.”  Missing the point of the argument (or maybe in some way also affirming its truth) they appeal to their ability to understand and comprehend good and evil as an “atheist” as a defeater of the argument. The obvious counter to this “defeater” is that an atheists ability to comprehend good and evil does not disprove the existence of God but is actually dependent upon His existence – they borrow from theism here to establish the foundation for moral claims.  It is like saying that we can have oranges without orange trees because I bought this orange at the grocery store and there was no orange tree in sight.

The same is true for the “aesthetic” argument made here unwittingly by the song.  The arts have the same sort of quality as morality for the sake of an argument for the existence of God.  Music and art have a transcendent quality to them that is impossible to explain really without the existence of a God who is both ordered and a creator.  Aesthetics and beauty are rooted in  these same ideas of creation, transcendence and the idea of an objective sense of beauty or what is universally pleasing as opposed to dissonant.

In this regard Atheists really have no good songs, and even the good songs that they sing are based on the borrowed principles of Theism.

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Unbelievable? Radio Programme

I am always looking for good listening, especially because there is so much bad listening on contemporary Christian radio. Much of what is available on the radio is either so poor theologically or so argumentative and vitriolic that when you find something collegial, engaging and easy to listen to, it is worth noting. So it is with the “Unbelievable?” Radio Programme with host Justin Brierly. It airs in the UK, don’t let the British accent fool you, these guys are really sharp even though they misspell “programme”, silly Brits.

The program (notice the economy of letters in the US spelling) I listened to featured noted skeptic author Michael Shermer and a Scottish pastor named David Robertson entitled “Is Christianity Good for Society”.  You can listen to the program here, or subscribe to the RSS feed/netcast here.

David Robertson is my new hero.  He is well spoken, sharp and really takes Shermer to task for making statements that he cannot back up with facts.  I really enjoyed this broadcast.  I will be listening to other shows on Eschatology, Science, atheism, divorce, with a great lineup of guests.  Looks top notch and worth downloading to your mp3 player.

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Christians Are Mixed Up

According to recent polls cited by the USA Today, Christians are a mixed up lot.  Read the article, More U.S. Christians mix in ‘Eastern,’ New Age beliefs.

Some of their observations:

•26% of those who attend religious services say they do so at more than one place occasionally, and an additional 9% roam regularly from their home church for services.

•28% of people who attend church at least weekly say they visit multiple churches outside their own tradition.

•59% of less frequent church attendees say they attend worship at multiple places.

Pew says two in three adults believe in or cite an experience with at least one supernatural phenomenon, including:

•26% find “spiritual energy” in physical things.

•25% believe in astrology.

•24% say people will be reborn in this world again and again.

•23% say yoga is a “spiritual practice.”

It is an interesting phenomenon that I encounter often as a pastor.  This article was no surprise to me, in fact, I was surprised that the numbers weren’t higher.  Here are some of my observations:


Thinking is not in vogue in the church.  Reading is not a common practice, and if it is, it does not include books that challenge the intellect and build a strong intellectual or doctrinal foundation.  It is the rare Christian who reads philosophy, has mastered logic or engages in apologetics.  Many Christians do not evaluate their belief system against the Scriptures nor do they engage in Systematics.  Can I add that many pastors are in the same category.  As a result, the beliefs of believers are muddled. They are regularly exposed to shoddy and contradictory preaching, rarely systematic, rarely doctrinal.  The result is Christians remain mixed up, and even worse feel that it is acceptable.

Scientific Climate and corresponding High touch climate

We live in a scientifically influenced society where people are desperate for corresponding scientific “proof” for their faith.   So we have institutions dedicated to Creation research/Intelligent Design.  We ignore science when it challenges our belief system, we appeal to it when it “supports” it.  We seek its solace as it brings “certainty” to our faith.  Yet on the other hand we ignore it when it comes to evaluating weirdness, like speaking to the dead.

In our scientific age, we crave a corresponding non-scientific, esoteric experience that is beyond explanation.  We base our conclusions on major and eternal issues on emotion and visceral reactions.  It is an odd combination:  Christians seek scientific affirmation of faith, then seek irrational affirmation of faith in their practice and in their “non-scientific” areas of doctrine.


Post-modernism is a view that elevates the subjective and diminishes the objective (very simplistic definition of a very complex idea).  Post-modernism has infected the thinking of the average person in our culture.  It reveals itself in statements like, “It is true for you but not for me”.  The philosophical underpinnings of Post-modernism feed the propensity toward the mixed up ideas displayed by Christians.  It really isn’t necessary for people to have organized and consistent ideas, rather it is important for the subject to feel good about their ideas.

The subjective approach looks for doctrine and church to bring emotional satisfaction, not intellectual consistency.  This may not be true of the sophisticated post-modern who may go to great lengths to think and justify their philosophical position, but it is the effect upon the average church goer.

So even though communicating with the dead is outside the boundaries of Christian doctrine and science, the average Christian dispenses with those boundaries because they find comfort and solace in what speaking to their dead relatives brings.

Consumer mentality brought to spirituality

People treat church like they do shopping or picking a restaurant.  Denominational loyalty is diminishing and church’s marketing toward felt needs has produced a shopping environment when it comes to church.   I recall seeing an advertisement in the newspaper from a church offering a television as a prize give away item in an attempt to lure visitors.  Worship services are like concerts and sermons like motivational messages, geared toward the relevant and the cultural context. Graphics, titles and content all garnered from the media (TV and movies).

Hence people feel free to jump from congregation to congregation, hearing the same regurgitated sermons that are aimed at their felt needs.  Story, media and illustrations fill the sermons, content takes a back seat, doctrine is rarely spoken of at length.  They have very rarely had any long term systematic teaching.


The most telling quote in the USA Today article is “In short, we believe our own experiences are authentic, and no “authority” can say otherwise.”

“Our own experiences rule the roost.”  This philosophy applied to the church is antithetical to the function of the church in the life of the believer.  Maybe the most challenged idea in our postmodern culture is the idea of authority.  The appeal of many of the evangelical/non-denominational movement is the diminishing of a clear cut authority.  The more traditional expressions of church, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Mainline  Protestant (Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian) found their people on a mass exodus to the free movement.  Now that the shine has worn off, many are moving back to some of those churches, but desiring the experience without the authority.

The equation of anyone’s opinion with the position of the church or the position of the pastor/elders is not a biblical one.  In fact the reversal is now the case, the individual is evaluating church and doctrine and elevating themselves above the church.  This is now seen as the norm.


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There is a God

There is a God! the expert has conceded the point. Whew, now I can rest easy.  A really smart guy agrees with me.  Antony Flew, notorious atheist philosopher has changed his mind.  In this remarkable book, he tells of his movement from atheism to deism.  He doesn’t personalize God, rather he simply refers to God as the Superior Mind.  He does give an “endorsement” (more on that below) to Christianity via an appendix in the book written by NT Wright.

In an amazingly straightforward presentation, Flew recognizes now the obvious.  Something doesn’t come from nothing, and pure matter cannot explain consciousness, emotion, purpose and a whole slew of other things that are necessary components of life. The only reasonable conclusion is God.

There is also an appendix by Roy Abraham Varghese that replies to the “New” atheists like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris et al.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it, but as the leaking sarcasm hints I find the posture a little shameful.  Requisite with the acknowledgement of God is worship.  As with most intelligent people, Flew refuses to take that requisite step.  He fails to see the truth of Isaiah who calls God’s creation to worship Him:

Everyone who is called by My name,
And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.
…to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance,
They will say of Me, Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength,
Men will come to Him,
And all who are angry at Him will be put to shame.
(Isaiah 43:7 & 45:23-24)

God doesn’t need an endorsement, He demands worship.

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The Problem of Evil

5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other,
7 The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.

Isaiah 45:5-7 is a tremendous passage of Scripture which affirms the sovereignty of God.

I once heard a prominent church leader call this passage of Scripture “obscure”. That floored me. I found that observation to be shocking, naively ignorant of the breadth of the Scripture and the foundational nature of this passage to the understanding of the whole of Scripture. The truth expressed in this passage forms the background to Romans 9-11 and to the whole of the book of Job. It is impossible to frame theodicy (the problem of evil) biblically without engaging this passage of Scripture. In fact, the church’s anemic position on theodicy stems precisely from considering this passage obscure or from ignoring this passage.

Let me start with my conclusions:

  • Isaiah could care less about the modern discussion of the problem of evil.
  • Isaiah was focused on the exclusivity of God’s sovereignty: he is declaring God to be the only God.
  • Isaiah doesn’t deem to give an answer to the problem of evil, he simply says “woe to the one who quarrels with his maker.”

Continue reading The Problem of Evil

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You Are Not Your Brain

Philosopher and professor at UC Berkeley Alva Noe has written a book entitled “Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness”.  This is a fascinating topic that spans the disciplines of biology, psychology, neuro-science, philosophy and theology.

Noe has a video on Edge the Third Culture website (hardly a Christian site) which is interesting because the conclusions drawn from this discussion mitigate against a materialistic universe held by most of the Edge crowd (Dawkins, Dennett, Gould, et al).  Materialists want to make consciousness merely a function of the brain.

“The reason we have been unable to  explain the neural basis of consciousness is that it does not take place in the brain…Consciousness is not something that happens inside us but something we achieve.  To understand consciousness – the fact that we think and feel and that a world shows up for us – we need to look at a larger system of which the brain is only one element.  Consciousness requires the joint operation of brain, body and world.  You are not your brain.  The brain rather is part of what you are.”

The question will be how do they link this idea with a materialist worldview.

Of course the Christian worldview has always answered this question with the soul and body composition of man.  We are made up of a material and immaterial part.  We are not gnostics who attribute superiority to the immaterial part, we view man as created in original holiness and good.  Depravity has distorted the image of God in man, and has affected both the material and immaterial parts of man.  Regeneration primarily deals with the immaterial part of man, and resurrection finalizes redemption as it is fully applied to us – the resurrection of the body being the primary focus.  Consciousness resides in the immaterial part of man and uses the brain to communicate between body and soul.

Thanks to Jim O. for the heads up on the Scientific American book review of Noe’s soon to be released work.

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Penn Says: A Gift of a Bible

Penn Jillette has a lot to say about religion, he is an atheist, but here is a provocative video where he tells of someone who gave him a Bible. He says some interesting things that Christians should remember when talking to unbelievers:

  • He was complimentary
  • He said nice stuff
  • He gave me…
  • He looked me in the eye
  • He made it personal (Penn says: “He said I wrote in the front of it, wanted you to have it)
  • He was not defensive
  • He was truly complimentary, kind, nice, sane, looked me in the eye
  • He cared enough about me to talk to me

Here are some other things he said about the encounter and evangelism (proselytizing):

  • It was really wonderful
  • I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize
  • How much do you have to hate people to not proselytize, if you really believe heaven and hell is at stake?
  • He cared enough about me to talk to me

Not all atheists and unbelievers are interested in being evangelized, but everyone is interested when you care about them. Evangelism must be driven by unadulterated love for the person you are speaking to. It is not a debate or an argument, it is an expression of care and concern.

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.2054134&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

more about “Penn Says: A Gift of a Bible“, posted with vodpod

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