Archive for February 2012

The Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends

 Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

It will be my purpose in the following arguments to show that secular humanistic theories which try to ground moral ontology fail–and fail miserably.

Recently, I listened [again] to the debate between William Lane Craig and Louise Anthony. Some have lauded this debate as a stirring victory for secular ethics. (See, for example, the comments here–one comment even goes so far as to say “I swoon when someone evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma and frown at the impotent, goal-post-moving, ‘Divine nature’ appeal.”) In reality, I think Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

I’ll break down why this is the case by focusing upon three areas of development in secular and theistic ethics: objective moral truths, suffering, and moral facts.

Objective Moral Truths

Louise Anthony and William Lane Craig agree that there are objective moral truths. Now, this is important because many theists take the existence of objective morality to demonstrate–or at least strongly suggest–the existence of God. Interestingly, other humanist/secular scholars have agreed with Anthony, claiming there are objective truths (another example is Sam Harris–see my analysis of his position contrasted with theism here). The question, of course, is “How?” Consider the following:

Louise Anthony seems to be just confused about the nature of objective morality. She says in response to a question from the audience, “The universe has no purpose, but I do… I have lots of purposes…. It makes a lot of difference to a lot of people and to me what I do. That gives my life significance… The only thing that would make it [sacrificing her own life] insignificant would be if my children’s lives were insignificant. And, boy you better not say that!”

Craig responded, “But Louise, on atheism, their lives are insignificant.” Anthony interjected, “Not to me!”

But then she goes on to make this confused statement, “It’s an objective fact that they [her children] are significant to me.”

Note how Anthony has confused the terms here. Yes, it is an objective fact that according to Louise Anthony, her children matter to her. We can’t question Anthony’s own beliefs–we must trust what she tells us unless we have reason to think otherwise. But that’s not enough. What Craig and other theists are trying to press is that that simple fact has nothing to do with whether her children are actually valuable. Sure, people may go around complaining that “Well, it matters to me, so it does matter!” But that doesn’t make it true. All kinds of things can matter to people, that doesn’t mean that they are ontologically objective facts.

It matters to me whether the Cubs [an American baseball team] win the World Series. That hasn’t happened in 104 years, so it looks like it doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of the universe after all. But suppose I were to, like Anthony, retort, “But the Cubs matter to me! It’s an objective fact that them winning the World Series is significant to me!” Fine! But all the Cardinals [a rival team] fans would just laugh at me and say “SO WHAT!?

Similarly, one can look at Anthony with incredulity and retort, “Who cares!?” Sure, if you can get enough people around Anthony who care about her children’s moral significance, you can develop a socially derived morality. But that’s not enough to ground objective morality. Why should we think that her values matter to the universe at large? On atheism, what reason is there for saying that her desires and purposes for her children are any better than my desires and purposes for the Cubs?

Another devastating objection can be found with a simple thought experiment. Let’s say Anthony didn’t exist. In such a world, there can be no one complaining that her children matter “to me!” Instead, her children just exist as brute facts. How then can we ground their significance? Well, it seems the answer for people like Anthony would be to point to the children’s other family say “Those children matter to them!” We could continue this process almost endlessly. As we eliminate the children’s family, friends, etc. and literally make them just exist on their own, we find Anthony’s answer about allegedly objective morality supervenes on fewer and fewer alleged moral facts. Suddenly “Those children matter to themselves!” is the answer. But then what if we eliminate them? Do humans still have value? The whole time, Anthony has grounded the significance of her children and other humans in the beliefs, goals, and purposes of humans. But without humans, suddenly there is no significance. That’s what is meant by objective morality. If those children matter even without humans, then objective morality is the case. But Anthony has done nothing to make this the case; she’s merely complained that her children matter to her.

Now, some atheists–Anthony and Sam Harris included–seem to think they have answers to these questions. They seem to think that they can ground objective morality. We’ll turn to those next.

Suffering

One of the linchpins of humanists’ claims (like Anthony and Sam Harris) is suffering. The claim is that we can know what causes suffering, and that this, in turn, can lead us to discover what is wrong. We should not cause suffering.

But why not?

Most often the response I’ve received to this question is simply that because we do not wish to suffer, we should not wish to have others suffer or cause suffering for others. But why should that be the case? Why should I care about others’ suffering, on atheism? That’s exactly the question humanism must answer in order to show that objective morality can exist in conjunction with secularism. But I have yet to see a satisfactory answer to this question.

Anthony was presented with a similar question in the Q&A segment of her debate with William Lane Craig. One person asked (paraphrased), “Why shouldn’t I base morality as ‘whatever benefits me the most’?” Anthony responded simply by simply arguing essentially that it’s not right to seek pleasure at the expense of others, because they may also want pleasure.

But of course this is exactly the point! Why in the world should we think that that isn’t right!?

The bottom line is that, other than simply asserting as a brute fact that certain things are right and wrong, atheism provides absolutely no answer to the question of moral objectivity. People like Anthony  try to smuggle it in by saying it’s objectively wrong to cause suffering [usually with some extra clauses], but then when asked why that is wrong, they either throw it back in the face of the one asking the question (i.e. “Well don’t you think it’s wrong?”) or just assert it as though it is obviously true.

And it is obviously true! But what is not so obvious is why it is obviously true, given atheism. We could have simply evolved herd morality which leads us to think it is obviously true, or perhaps we’re culturally conditioned by our close proximity to theists to think it is obviously true, etc. But there still is no reason that tells us why it is, in fact, true.

Moral Facts

Anthony (and Harris, and others with whom I’ve had personal interactions) centralize “moral facts” in their metaethical account. As a side note, what is meant by “moral fact” is a bit confusing but I don’t wish to argue against their position through semantics alone. They claim that we can figure out objective morals on the basis of moral facts. Sam Harris, for example, argues that there is a “continuum of such [moral] facts” and that “we know” we can “move along this continuum” and “We know, we know that there are right and wrong answers about how to move in this space [along the moral continuum]” (see video here).

Now it is all well and good to just talk about “facts” and make it sound all wonderful and carefully packaged, but Anthony and Harris specifically trip up when they get asked questions like, “How do we figure out what moral facts are?”

Anthony was asked “How do you determine what the objective moral facts are”, and responded by saying, “We do it by, um, testing our reactions to certain kinds of possibilities, um, thinking about the principles that those reactions might entail; testing those principles against new cases. Pretty much the way we find out about anything” (approximately 2 hours into the recorded debate).

One must just sit aghast when one hears a response like that. Really? That is the way we discover moral truths? And that is the way we “find out about anything”? Now I guess I can’t speak for Anthony herself, but when I’m trying to find out about something, I don’t test my reaction to possibilities and then try to figure out what my reaction “might entail.” That is radical subjectivism. Such a view is utterly devastating for not just morality but also science, history, and the like. If I were to try to conduct scientific inquiry in this manner, science would be some kind of hodgepodge of my “reactions” to various phenomenon. Unwittingly, perhaps, Anthony has grounded the ontology of her morality in the reactions of people. But this error isn’t restricted to Anthony. Harris also makes this confounding mistake. His basic argument in the talk linked above is simply, “Science can tell us what people think about things, so it can tell us about morality.” This is, of course patently absurd. Suppose I tried to test these humanists’ theories on groups of people by sticking them in a room and having them watch all kinds of things from murder to the rape of children to images of laughter and joy. Now suppose I randomly sifted my sample among the population of the world, but somehow, by pure chance, got a room full of child molesters. As I observe their reactions, I see they are quite joyful when they observe certain detestable images. Now, going by Anthony/Harris’ way to “find out about anything” and thinking about what these people’s reaction entails, I conclude that pedophilia is a great good. But then I get a room full of parents with young children, who react in horror at these same images. Then, as I reflect on their reactions, I discover that pedophilia is a great evil. And I repeat this process over and over. Eventually, I discover that the one group was an aberration, but it was a group nonetheless.

What does this mean?

Quite simply, it means that both Harris and Anthony haven’t made any groundbreaking theory of ethics. Rather, they’ve just made a pseudo-humanistic utilitarianism. They ground moral ontology in our “reactions” to various moral situations. The only way for them to say something is morally wrong if people have different reactions is either to go with the majority (utilitarianism) or choose one side or the other, which essentially turns into a kind of Euthyphro dilemma against atheists. Either things are wrong because enough people think they’re wrong (in which case morality is arbitrary) or things are wrong because they simply are wrong, period (in which case the humanist has yet to provide an answer for moral ontology).

Conclusion

Given the discussion herein, one can see that those atheists, humanists, and/or secularists who desire to ground objective morality still have a lot of work to do. Louise Anthony’s best attempt to ground morality boils down into radical subjectivism. Sam Harris’ account fares no better. Those who are trying to ground objective morality within an atheistic universe will just have to keep searching. The solutions Anthony and Harris have attempted to offer are vacuous.

Image Source:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SecularHumanismLogo3DGoldCropped.png

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Devotion for a Philosopher/Apologist: Philippians 1-2

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. (Philippians 1:15-17 HCSB)

“Why do I defend the faith?”

I encourage all Christian philosophers and apologists to ask themselves this question. It is a question, I admit, with an answer I’ve been ashamed to discover at times. Sometimes, the answer is “I defend the faith because I feel smart doing so” or “I defend the faith because it makes me look good.”

The defense of the faith is not about yourself. The focus is, and should always be, on Christ. Troubles come the way of the defender of the faith. It is not easy to continue to press on towards knowledge and truth. The Christian philosopher faces the scorn of his fellows, and the Christian apologist the ridicule of those who disagree. Yet in such striving, one can rejoice in the salvation of Christ and His glory alone.

It is often too easy to get wrapped up in yourself when you are defending the faith. Look at the people discussing the arguments you make! Look at those who think you are so strong; so faithful; so spiritual! I tell you, Christian brothers and sisters, such glory is nothing to be had in comparison to the glory of Christ crucified.

Further, do we preach the Gospel in such a way as to gainsay others? Paul experienced those who did this very thing; such people are in our midst to this day. Let us not use the Gospel to slander or attack. Rather, let us preach the grace of God.

Paul wrote,

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13 HCSB)

Thus, it is not by ourselves that we spread the Good News. It is God’s work in us, empowering us and enabling us to do His work. We cannot take credit for this, but should always turn our victories back to God. When we are tempted to delight in our own wisdom or knowledge, we must ask for forgiveness and acknowledge that it is from God.

Paul’s warnings ring home to me. I have too often congratulated myself with a successful argument, a sound rebuttal. These things matter not if we do not advance the Kingdom. Let us unite with each other, build each other up, and encourage one another. By doing these things, we can work together, each with his or her strength covering another’s weakness. Let us together hold firmly to the message of life (Phil. 2:16).

Reading

Read Philippians 1 and 2. Reflect on Paul’s joy in the spread of the Gospel and his own striving to keep the focus on Christ, not on himself.

Prayer

Dear Lord God,

Help us to keep our focus always only on you. Please forgive us for the times we struggle and delight in the admiration of others. Forgive us for using your message for our own ends. Help us to forgive others when they stumble, and grant us the grace to lift them up. We work for your glory, oh Lord.

Amen.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Christian Reflection on The Hunger Games Trilogy

I devoured the entire Hunger Games Trilogy over the course of a few days (see my general, spoiler-free reflections here). I can’t wait for the movie. My thoughts on the movie can be found here. Everyone has been talking about these books, and for good reason.

I’ll give my thoughts on the overall plot and what I take as the meaning in the books, from my own Christian perspective. I provide a brief look at things Christians can take from the books, as well as a discussion of the ethical theory one could see in the books.

This post focuses first on the reflections, and readers who don’t know the plot should read my summary before reading that section. Next, I briefly outline some content for parents. Third is my summary of the trilogy. Finally, I share a few interesting links, including one which I think will be very useful for Christian parents wondering if these are appropriate for their children.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS INCLUDED BELOW

I’ll first present my reflections, and follow it with a brief note for parents. Those who haven’t read the books and aren’t planning to do so can read 3. Summary for a broad summary of the plot. There are spoilers in the reflections section, so readers who don’t want to have anything spoiled should abstain from reading this post and perhaps just read the one linked above.

1. Reflections

[I have had the wonderful pleasure of interacting with many thoughtful Christian on this trilogy and found that there is so much more to the books than I could delve into here. Please see the links at the end for more reflections.] Initially, as I reflected on The Hunger Games Trilogy, I felt that the biggest issue was that there didn’t seem to be a major point to it beyond entertainment. I asked to be corrected, and I was. Many people commenting on this post have shared incredible insights. For the Christian reflecting on the Hunger Games, one can see it as a commentary on the horrors done to children in our time (Audra Franz below brings up this excellent point), a stunning condemnation of relativistic ethical theories (see A.T. Ross’s link), a narrative of Christian martyrdom, a critique of poor moral decisions, a horrible look at a nihilistic worldview, and more. In other words, there are any number of things Christians reflecting on the Hunger Games Trilogy can take away from the series. As such, I’ve lengthened this post a bit to take more of this into account.

I’ve been perplexed by Katniss’ decision to vote to hold a Hunger Games for the children of the leaders of the Capitol. Now, upon further consideration, I have to agree with the astute reader whose idea I put forward below, but I’ve left my original view untouched here [see the last few sentences two paragraphs down]. Consider the following passage in which they are voting on this very issue (p. 370 of Mockingjay):

Was it like this then? Seventy-five years ago? Did a group of people sit around and cast their votes on initiating the Hunger Games? Was there dissent? Did someone make a case for mercy that was beaten down by the calls for the deaths of the  districts’ children? …All those people I loved, dead, and we are discussing the next Hunger Games in an attempt to avoid wasting life. Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change now…. I say, “I vote yes… for Prim.”

I’m just honestly confused by this passage and Katniss’ decision. The vote was, according to her and Coin, a way to avoid losing more life. Some want to kill everyone in the Capitol, while others think they should just integrate with them in order to help stabilize the population. These last Hunger Games were proposed as a solution–a middle ground. But it seems to me they don’t serve a middle ground, just another atrocity. And Katniss seemed to realize that, but voted yes anyway. It is unclear that these Hunger Games ever take place, however, because shortly after making this decision, Coin is killed by Katniss and it’s uncertain as to whether an announcement is ever made. One reader gave me an interest comment on this–that it seems Katniss’ vote for the Hunger Games was, in fact, a ruse to lure Coin into the open so she could take her down. This gains credence when one considers that she says “for Prim”–even though she knew it was not Capitol people, but rather Coin, who killed Prim. On such a view, her utterance of “for Prim” is ironic, and indeed may have been intended to show Haymitch what Katkniss was planning. This makes more sense to me. My thanks to the astute reader!

The world in the Hunger games is stark. It is real, and one can’t help but be drawn into it while simultaneously feeling repulsed. Perhaps that was Suzanne Collins’ point, however. There isn’t always a triumph. Sometimes it’s just bitter reality. The trilogy ends on a happy note, but the overall scheme is one which forces the reader to reflect.

So what do I take from the Hunger Games trilogy? I readily admit my worldview does permeate my thought, and the main thing I took from the trilogy is the sinful condition of humanity. Katniss acknowledges it, noting that it could be better to allow some less sadistic species take over. As I already said, there is a fairly happy ending, but looking at the state of Panem and the world–there has been war after war, there’s no clear idea that the totalitarian government hasn’t just been replaced by another under the guise of democracy, children are killed, and a “compromise” to prevent more death is to send the Capitol’s children to fight to the death once more. The sinfulness of the human race, it seems, is at the forefront. And I think that’s why I long for more in the Hunger Games–I long for that comfort of the Redeemer. There seems to be no hope in the books that things will be made right, only that eventually, the nightmares may get better. Having the comfort of redemption and hope, I can’t help but wish for that in the world of Panem–a Redeemer to come and wash away the tears. And so, because there is no such Redeemer, I see the stories as a reflection of the brutal reality of a world without God. In such a world the best that can be hoped for is that the nightmares may one day end; that children may have a better life than their parents. But ultimately, it is a hard reality, one in which there is no true hope, no way to atone for past wrongs. Perhaps that is the central message of the books, or perhaps I am reading my own worldview onto it. Either way, I find this central message compelling.

Some have expressed concern that the Hunger Games express moral relativism. A.T. Ross has an excellent discussion of this on his site. The books themselves never present a moral theory–obviously that is not their intent–but they certainly do not seem to espouse moral relativism. It is clear throughout that the government’s actions are quite evil and that killing, sexual exploitation, and the like are all wrong. Ross notes that some have complained that it seems all the actions are up to chance. The phrase used in Panem is “May the odds be ever in your favor.” But Ross has astutely pointed out that no fictional character ever survives by chance. There is an Author who guides and directs their destinies. As Ross says, “The world operates on grace whether we like it or not; what we see as luck is nothing more than a tiny slice of divine grace offered in the form of survival and the tensions of the story resolving.”

But the Hunger Games, as noted below in the comments, can also be seen as a critique of our own world and our abuse of our children. In our world, children are sold for sex, they are forced to fight, they are fearful for their next meal, just as they are in the Hunger Games. Collins has poignantly potrayed the reality of our own world in the fictional realm of Panem.

A final thought is that Christians can definitely see parallels between the Hunger Games and the plight of the first Christians as they were forced to battle wild animals in Rome. There are a great many parallels here, and I can’t help but think some of this may be intentional. I’m not suggesting Collins is Christian–indeed, I don’t know what faith (if any) she professes. But I do think that the Hunger Games trilogy brings in many concepts from Christianity–the hopelessness of life without God, the objective wrongness of certain actions (and one’s requirements to act against them [provided the alternative reading of Katkniss' vote]), and even an allusion to the Christian’s martyrdom in the arena. These all provide significant talking points for Christians throughout the series. The books are not overtly Christian, but they can open up conversations about these topics, and that, in itself, makes them worth reading in my opinion.

Thus, it can be seen that even though the Hunger Games Trilogy is not explicitly Christian, Christians who are interested can take all kinds of talking points away from it. Parents will find much to discuss with their children, and readers who are simply interested in the series will be unable to keep themselves from earnestly reflecting on the series afterwards. My own thoughts have been wonderfully shaped by readers who have shared their comments, so please keep them coming. It is clear that the Hunger Games can captivate Christians and have us look at the world through the eyes of faith–observing what is wrong and praying for God’s aid as we turn to those problems highlighted in the series. Most of all, we have the message of redemption, which is notably absent in the series–a message which is necessary to avoid the nihilistic collapse of Panem.

2. Brief note for Parents

Parents interested in the Hunger Games should know the series is very violent and depicts the death of children in sometimes graphic detail. While not explicit, there is some sexual exploitation involved as well (again, it is never explicit, but it can easily be drawn out from the text that is there). These are not books for young children. Please see 3. Summary for more details about the plot itself to hopefully help decide whether it is for your children.

3. Summary

Katniss Everdeen narrates the series from a first-person perspective. The Hunger Games is an annual tournament in which the Capitol collects 2 children from the 12 districts of Panem–the mini-country that has risen from the dust of several wars–and makes them battle to the death. Only one of the 24 children will survive. Why does the Capitol do this? Because about 74 years ago, the districts revolted against the Capitol. The Capitol won and the Hunger Games serve as an annual reminder of the Capitol’s might. The Hunger Games are aired on national television and everyone in Panem is required to watch their children die. There are interviews and extensive coverage of the event.

In the first book, The Hunger Games, Primrose, Katniss’ sister, is selected to compete in the Hunger Games. Katkniss almost immediately volunteers to take her place–she can’t watch her sister die. Gale, her friend and hunting partner for years, agrees to take care of her family. Peeta, a boy who had saved Katkniss’ life by giving her food some years ago, is the male selected from District 12, their home. They get shipped to the Capitol, where they begin to gain popularity due to their stylist, Cinna, and their story of hopeless lovers. Peeta told everyone at an interview that he loved Katniss and she plays that up in order to get gifts from “sponsors”–people who like certain children and pay to send food, weapons, medicine, and the like to them while they’re in the Hunger Games arena. As children die and are killed (including Katniss’ ally, Rue), it becomes apparent that Peeta and Katniss may be among the last few. The Capitol changes the rules to allow two to survive if they are the last ones and from the same district. Katniss finds Peeta and nurses him back to health, pretending to love him the whole time (and occasionally feeling very real about it). They end up barely surviving, but then the Capitol decides to change the rules back so they must fight to the death. They are about to kill themselves when the Capitol stops them and allows them both to win.

It turns out Peeta wasn’t pretending about his love, but Katniss was. The Capitol is furious that they were outwitted by the attempted suicide, and Peeta and Katniss are in danger. The book ends with Katniss in confusion about her interests in Peeta, and Peeta totally disappointed.

Catching Fire picks up a few months later and highlights the political drama playing out as President Snow and the Capitol are still furious that Peeta and Katniss both survived. The year is the 75th Hunger Games and in it, they select victors. Peeta and Katniss once more go to the Games. There is more to the Games than meets the eye, however, and Katniss and Peeta are part of a bigger scheme now to overthrow the Capitol. Katniss is confused about her feelings for Peeta and Gale. During the Games, Katniss is rescued and transported to the previously thought-destroyed District 13. District 12, her home, has been bombed to rubble. There are revolts happening across Panem.

In Mockingjay, Katniss must decide whether to help District 13 unite the Districts against the Capitol. Eventually she does and the revolution begins to take over district-by-district. District 13’s own motivations are unclear and it’s not certain they are any better than the Capitol in some ways. Their leader, Coin, is particularly unforgiving. Peeta has been tortured and tries to kill Katniss due to brainwashing, but through the course of the book he is rehabilitated and begins sorting his false memories from his true ones. It becomes apparent Coin doesn’t like the political clout Katkniss has as the “Mockingjay”–honorary leader of the rebellion. Katniss continues to go after President Snow, determined to kill him for his atrocities. Eventually, she reaches his estate and witnesses the killing of dozens of children with a secret weapon that only the Rebellion knows about. Snow is captured.

Katniss votes to put the Capitol’s leaders’ children in one final Hunger Games as retribution[? see more on this in my reflection] for their crimes. She and Coin had agreed to allow Katniss to kill Snow, and she is about to when she shoots Coin instead, due to Coin’s involvement in murdering other children. Katniss is pardoned for temporary insanity, and goes home to District 12. Eventually she and Peeta get together and the book ends with them having children despite Katniss’ fear that some great evil will come upon them.

4. Links

“Catching Fire”- A Christian reflection on the film. I review a number of themes found in the movie “Catching Fire” and tie them back to the message of Christianity and social justice.

Please check out my other writings on movies and books. For starters, if you liked The Hunger Games you may want to check out John Carter.

Christian Children’s Book Review- Check out this review of the series to get more specific information parents may want to consider as they think about getting these books for their children.

The Hunger Games, Ethics, and Christianity- A very interesting look at moral relativism and realism in The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games: Focus on the Family- Essentially a book review of the first book, The Hunger Games, with an emphasis on issues Christian parents might have with it. I don’t agree withe everything here, but I think the talking points they’ve provided for parents are pretty interesting.

Hungering for Satisfaction- a poignant look into the Hunger games. “Real or unreal?”

Deeper Hungers and Darker Games- The Hunger Games reflects a world without God. What does it mean?

The Hunger Games: The Atheist’s Utopia- No God: Utopia?

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


Really Recommended Posts 02/17/12

God and Art- Deeper Waters discusses the beauty of our world along with God. Fairly lengthy post, but it’s very interesting. I recommend it.

How the Ontological Argument Proves God’s Existence- a brief discussion of the ontological argument. For more, check out my own posts on the topic which can be accessed here.

An interesting discussion on Intelligent Design’s denigration in the public square.

Interview of Erik Larsen- A fascinating interview with comic giant Erik Larsen. It brings up a few apologetic issues and is overall just a good read. I’m not even a comic book fan and loved it.

The Theological Advantages of Molinism- A great look at the reasons to accept molinism theologically over other views.

Explaining Beauty Away- A follow up post on the argument from aesthetics. (See the first one here.)

Book Review: “Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe If It’s Not True” by Stephen McAndrew

Is there absolute truth? Such is the topic of Stephen McAndrew’s new book, Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe If It’s Not True (hereafter DMYB).

McAndrew begins the work by noting that his book is an examination of a position and an affirmation of absolute truth. This is done because it is important to “examine even the most comfortable beliefs and leave standing only those that survive the disciplined assault of reason” (9).

He begins this testing by exploring some philosophical background, from Plato to positivism to relativism. These summaries are succinct, but provide a great background for those who haven’t read much on the topic. He turns next to a discussion of the effects of an abandonment of absolute truth. Relativism divorces one from any capacity to judge right and wrong. McAndrew notes, “These actions [such as the holocaust, racism, etc.] may brutally offend our sense of right and wrong, but the moral relativist cannot apply his or her values to others” (27).

What is interesting, however, is that McAndrew doesn’t stop at discussing relativism alone, but rather a conjunction of two beliefs: relativism and universal human rights. Many people, McAndrew notes, hold to relativism but also want to affirm universal human rights. In DMYB, he uses the discussion of the Nuremberg Tribunals–at which Nazis were tried for war crimes–as a case study for these conflicting views. He notes that “The defendants at Nuremberg argued that international law could only punish states and not individuals…. The Nuremberg court held that individuals could be punished for crimes against humanity under international law” (34).

Relativists, however, cannot consistently agree with the Nuremberg court, because “If there are no absolute truths, there can be no universal human rights” (35). These rights, if relative, are “contingent upon our cultural and historical position…” (ibid).

But relativism has a worse problem–it is contradictory. If all truth is contingent, then the statement “All truth is relative” is also relative, and therefore cannot be true for all people in all places (43ff). McAndrew next turns to the source for the “human rights urge”–the notion that all humans have certain universal rights. This source, argues McAndrew, is God (62ff). He makes a final case study when he turns to art–if there is no absolute truth, then there is no enduring beauty or truth in art (77ff).

The strengths of McAndrew’s book are readily apparent. He does a great job explaining difficult philosophical topics with terms and examples that anyone can understand. Not only that, but his discussion of Wittgenstein and the book 1984 give concrete, workable topics for those interested in the topic to use as talking points. My only criticism is that I believe I found a minor error. On page 85 McAndrew refers to the law of the excluded middle as the law that “propostion A and its direct contradiction–proposition B–cannot both be true at the same time.” This is in fact the law of noncontradiction. The law of the excluded middle is “For any proposition, it is either the case that the proposition is true or its negation is true.” This is a minor quibble, and one can derive the law of noncontradiction from the law of the excluded middle, but I thought I should note it.

Overall, the book may not convince everyone that there is absolute truth, but it will certainly force them to think about the positions they hold and wonder whether they can consistently cling to a relative absolutism. Those who already own a few books on the topic may wonder whether it is worth adding to their collection. Simply put, yes it is, if only to have at hand some great specific examples and talking points to discuss with relativists. It’s also a quick read that can be handed out to friends to  open up the path for future discussion. I highly recommend DMYB.

Source

Stephen McAndrew, Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe If It’s Not True (Sisters, OR: Deep River, 2012).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the author. My thanks to Stephen for the opportunity to review his book.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Guest Post: “Is There Life on Other Planets?” by Greg Reeves

If you’ve been reading the science news lately, you’ll find there has been a lot of buzz about “extrasolar planets”, or “exoplanets” (i.e., planets that orbit other stars).  For an example, see here.  The reason why is in the last several years, the number of exoplanets that we’ve discovered has increased dramatically, mostly due to the Kepler mission.  But regardless of the reason why, one interesting question this brings up is, “Are there other planets that host life?”

This is an incredibly profound question for both the religious and non-religious alike.  For the Christian, the knee-jerk reaction might be “no, of course not, God specially created the life on earth and did not do so elsewhere.” (By the way, I do not necessarily espouse this view.) For the secularist, the presence of life on other planets only adds weight to the idea that life arose here on earth by strictly naturalistic processes.  So what does science have to say about this subject?  Given the sensationalistic popular news articles, one might think the universe is teeming with alien life.  However, the data actually say otherwise.

First, answering the origin of life question, from a scientific standpoint, is incredibly hard.  In fact, after investigating the state of affairs on this problem in order to write a book, it has driven agnostic physicist Paul Davies to proclaim1:

 When I set out to write this book, I was convinced that science was close to wrapping up the mystery of life’s origin…Having spend a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding…This gulf’s not merely ignorance about certain technical details, it is a major conceptual lacuna.

He goes on to say:

Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled. There are two reasons for their unease. First they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists…Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding…

Second, even though it is a conceptually difficult phenomenon to study, scientists are incredibly confident that it will be resolved one day.  The main reason why is that the alternative to having a naturalistic origin of life would be a supernaturalistic origin of life, something that most secular scientists not only do not believe in but also that they rule out completely according to their philosophical worldview.

Third, we now know that life on our planet originated in a geological instant.  As soon as this planet became even remotely suitable for life, roughly 3.9-3.8 billion years ago, life began (our earliest evidence for life is between 3.86 and 3.80 billion years ago).  To the secular scientist, this implies that even though we have no idea how, the origin of life must be a very simple, fast process.

Fourth, because the origin of life is simple and fast, it probably is not a finely-tuned process, according to the reasoning of secularism.  In other words, all you need are some minimal requirements (liquid water, a rocky planet, some carbon-containing compounds, and a short window of time) and life will surely appear.  This principle led astronomer Steve Vogt, upon discovery of a rocky exoplanet in the “Goldilocks zone” (the distance from their star that would allow a planet to potentially harbor liquid water), to state, “The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.”  (As an interesting sidenote, the particular planet he was referring to may not even be a planet. Of course, we are still discovering exo-planets, and I have been confident for some time that we would find a near-earth-sized rocky planet in the Goldilocks zone.  And lo and behold, we have.  For examples, see here and here.)

So, given this background, is it likely that such “Goldilocks planets”, which are likely to be all over the place in the universe, harbor life?  Well, there are two sides to this story.  As I laid out above, the popular secular point of view (and the point of view portrayed by the media) is that life is inevitable whenever loose conditions are met (background point four).  So of course, whenever you have a planet in the Goldilocks zone, life is inevitable.  This view springs solely from the assumption of naturalism (background point 2) and the fact that life arose on earth quickly (background point 3).  You can easily see this point of view when reading the popular news articles, which are overflowing with unbridled optimism.

The other view is that life is rare in the universe, because all of the prowess of the origin-of-life scientific community has returned a comparatively small amount of promising data (background point 1). In fact, not only has little actual progress been made towards discovering naturalistic pathways towards origin of life, but instead the more we know the more we discover how far away we are.  Problems such as the lack of a prebiotic soup, the irreducible complexity of life, the homochirality problem (all bio-molecules must be either 100% right-handed or 100% left-handed), the difficulty in producing a cell membrane, and the finely-tuned conditions needed to carry out the chemical reactions that produce biological precursors all reveal a much less optimistic story from the point of view of hard science.

The problems for the hypothesis of the naturalistic origin of life don’t stop there, however.  The more we study our planet, the more we realize that an exoplanet needs a lot more going its way than just to be in the Goldilocks zone.  There are a whole host of astronomical and geological parameters that must be exquisitely finely-tuned for life to (1) exist and (2) persist on a planet.  The timing of the formation of the exosolar system, the location of the exosolar system within the galaxy, the type of galaxy the exosolar system is in, the elemental composition of the star and planet, and the existence of stable, long-lasting plate tectonics are just a few of the finely-tuned parameters that must be met for life to exist and thrive.

None of this is to say that we should not be investigating how life could have originated, or whether exoplanets may harbor other life forms.  Indeed, if God did create the universe and life, I am convinced that these scientific disciplines will serve only to glorify Him further.

But these observations do beg the question: which is it?  Is life abundant in the universe, a premise based on one data point and questionable assumptions, or is life rare, a premise based upon the empirical findings of the fields of biochemistry, organic chemistry, astronomy, and geology?  It seems to me that hope springs eternal for the secular exoplanet researcher, but the hard scientific data tells another story.

1. Davies, Paul.  “The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life.”  Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 16, 2000)

Dr Greg Reeves holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, and is currently an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University. He is the co-director of the NC State chapter of Ratio Christi. His blog can be found at twobooksapproach.blogspot.com.

Darwin Day Blog Posts

Check out these Christian Perspectives on Darwin Day.

Book Review: “I, Charles Darwin: Being the Journal of His Visitation to Earth in the Year 2009″-  A review of a fictional account of Darwin’s thoughts if he visited the earth in 2009. The review is pretty interesting in itself. Check it out.

Why Darwin Day is Hosted by the Wrong People- A fascinating look at the major groups that celebrate Darwin Day and their inconsistencies.

Useful or Useless Evolutionary Terms?- Do the terms microevolution and macroevolution actually have any value to distinguish them from each other?

Guest Post: “Is There Life on Other Planets?” by Greg Reeves- Some think life on other planets is inevitable. Others, not so much. Check out this interesting exploration of the topic by Greg Reeves.

Announcing my new site: “Eclectic Theist”

I have many more interests than just philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics. I’ve been longing for an outlet for these interests for some time. Finally, I got down to business and made a new blog: “Eclectic Theist.” 

On this new site, I’ll be writing about topics not normally discussed here on “Always  Have a Reason.” For example, my first main entry is a reflection on science fiction. On this new site I’ll be discussing my other interests. Readers on here may be surprised at how random my reading is sometimes. In my undergraduate studies, I was a social studies major and I read extensively about Mesoamerican history. Did you know that!? Well now you do, and guess what? I’ll be writing about it again. I also love World War 2 history and have been reading more in that area in what exists of my free time. Of course, I’m also a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, role-playing games, and more. All of these will be featured on this new site.

Will there be crossover? Probably. I’ve already thought of a few posts which can bring my outside interests on here and vice versa. For example, a series I’ve been contemplating for a while about science fiction and Christianity will see its launch on here in just a few short weeks. Other topics may crossover as well as they come up.

Does this mean I’ll write less here? Absolutely not. I have posts lined up for weeks now, and I continue to add to them. I’ll be maintaining my regular posts on here and using “Eclectic Theist” as an outlet for my other creative energy. Please, take the time to check out my introductory post to “Eclectic Theist” and browse the two new posts I have up. The site will be expanding quickly, so be sure to subscribe.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you over there and talking about topics that interest us apart from philosophy of religion.

Finally, because I like pictures, I’ll share one that I just put up over on the new site: a picture of Orson Scott Card and myself.

Contest: “How My Savior Leads Me” by Terri Stellrecht

Recently, I reviewed How My Savior Leads Me by Terri Stellrecht. I now have the opportunity to host a free book giveaway in which one winner will be selected to receive a copy of the book. I highly encourage readers to check out the book and Terri’s site, How My Savior Leads Me.

Rules:

Those who wish to participate need only to post a question for the author of the book. The author and I will select a few questions for her to answer, and we will select the winning entry randomly from the total pool of questions selected. (All valid entries will have a chance to win, including those with questions not selected.)You Must Provide a Valid E-Mail Address To Be Selected As A Winner. Please note that only entries that ship to addresses within the Continental United States are eligible. Only one entry per person is allowed, but entrants can choose to enter more than one question should they desire.

“How am I supposed to know what to ask, if I haven’t read the book?”

Well, read the review to get some insight into the book, or check out the handy “look inside” feature on Amazon! Or, if you’re feeling particularly lazy: it’s a book which beautifully reflects on the passing of Trent, Terri’s son. She focuses upon God’s sovereignty and his plan throughout it all and rejoices in the fact that Trent is saved in heaven. So, questions can be asked on anything from divine sovereignty to Christianity generally to personal questions about coping with the loss of a child. But for more, I’d suggest reading the review.

The questions chosen to be answered will be featured following the contest in a follow up post, “Q and A with Terri Stellrecht.”

Any entry deemed offensive will be deleted. The contest will be open through midnight, central time, on February 19th, 2012. The winner will be selected by February 26, 2012.

Disclaimer:

This contest is being held at the sole discretion of J.W. Wartick and Terri Stellrecht. They reserve the right to cancel or amend the details of the contest in any way at any time. Specifically, they will not be held accountable if the book is lost in the mail; if an entry is missed; etc. In other words, this contest is in no way legally binding for any who participate. By submitting an entry, you agree to the stipulations and rules provided in this post.

Book Review: “How My Savior Leads Me” by Terri Stellrecht

It is with great rejoicing that we release our son, Trent Lee Stellrecht, age 12, to our Heavenly Father. Dance before your King, my son (xiii).

“How My Savior Leads Me” by Terri Stellrecht is a beautiful work of theological reflection.

Terri’s son, Trent, passed away at age 12. The first part of the book reflects upon the incident. Everything is set against the background of Terri’s faith. She describes Tren’s life from birth to death, and throughout focuses on the joys of a son and his coming to faith. The reality of sin in the life Trent is acknowledged, even from a young age (10-11). But Trent eventually repented, telling Terri, “I’m not right with God” and repenting, turning to Bible study, and glorying in the Lord (12ff).

But Trent’s life was cut short in a skiing accident. Terri describes the heart-rending scenes. The whole family saw his body, and Terri noted that “There was my son, but it was so clearly not Trent anymore. It was truly just a shell. A beautiful, young, 12-year-old shell of a body… It was so evident that there was no soul left” (32). The family took comfort in the last verses Trent had read, Isaiah 65:17-25, which starts, “See I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Terri’s description of the funeral and other events surrounding Trent’s death is stirring and easily draws readers in. This is a Christian sister in mourning, and it rends the heart, even as readers rejoice with her that her son is in heaven.

The book continues with several chapters on sovereignty, mourning, and other topics. It concludes with a series of edited blog posts Terri wrote during the period shortly before and after Trent’s death. The blog posts are all worth reading. Readers will delight in Terri’s joy in her son and also weep with her in the times of sorrow. Her exhortations to fellow Christians to “wake up” reflect an intimate knowledge of one’s own standing with God that Christians would do well to remember (132ff).

Theology is found throughout “How My Savior Leads Me.” Terri is consistently affirming of God’s sovereignty.  The book makes it very apparent how comforting a strong view of sovereignty can be in times of mourning. Terri writes, “When we are weak, God is strong/ He empowered us to walk through those church doors, and promised to be with us for it all… We acknowledged God’s goodness in His perfect plan…” (40). Later, she writes, “If God ordained the beginning, the middle, and every detail until the end of Joseph’s life, [see the Joseph narrative Genesis chapters 37-50] then isn’t it easy to conclude that He has ordained every detail in our lives as well?” (59). Clearly, the comfort is found in acknowledging that all things are part of God’s plan.

She turns also to the important question “Why has God ordained all things?” The answer Terri provides, on the basis of Ephesians 1:11-12 and Isaiah 43:7 is that it is for God’s glory to show through all things (59ff). “God’s sovereign hand” is found in suffering (61). It is part of a process of sanctification by which we are made holy (62ff).

Now, within the Christian tradition there are those who definitely do not agree that God “ordained” every detail of Joseph’s life, if the sense of “ordained” is “caused.” Here, this reader’s own philosophy of religion may be peeking through, but it does seem that, at times, “How My Savior Leads Me” is advancing theological determinism. That may indeed be the view Terri holds, but it seems to me that such a position is inconsistent with some other propositions she makes. For example, she clearly does seem to hold that Trent willingly came to the faith after being a willing rebel against God’s will earlier in his life. Further, Terri writes, “In God’s sovereign plan, man had to fall so that the glory of God would be revealed to it’s [sic] fullest” (65, emphasis mine). Now, this assertion is highly contentious and doesn’t receive any argument [there are verses on either side of it, but they are used to support propositions in conjunction with them... the quoted statement has no cited verses]. I realize this is a position most in the various Reformed schools hold, but it does require some kind of argument to support it. Many Christians–myself included–certainly do not agree that man “had to fall” in order to reveal God’s glory. Also, Terri briefly admits chagrin at the female chaplain presented to her at the hospital, noting “How many times… have I gone on about women pastors and what I believe about the churches embracing of a practice and position that the Bible clearly lays out as a man’s role?” (31). Again, no argument is made to support this position. It should be noted that these criticisms mostly come from treating the book as something it’s not. The book itself is a book of mourning and theological reflection; it is not a defense of a position. Readers like me who may disagree with some of Terri’s points, but can still laugh, cry, and jump for joy with Terri as we follow her reflective journey in this book.

Ultimately, “How My Savior Leads Me” deserves a read by anyone. I must use the word “beauty” to describe much of the book. It is beautiful to see a mother mourning her son while affirming the Lord. It is beautiful to weep with our fellow Christian as they endure suffering. It is beautiful to look ahead, and to marvel at how our savior leads us.

Terri Stellrecht, How My Savior Leads Me (Bloomington, IN: WestBow, 2011).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the author. My thanks to Terri for the opportunity to review her book.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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